SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: October 04, 2016

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Travel Restrictions

Institution(s):Open University of Hong Kong

Region & Country:Southeastern Asia | Thailand

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On October 4, 2016, Joshua Wong, a prominent student leader from the Open University of Hong Kong, was reportedly detained for 12 hours at Suvarnabhumi Airport, in Bangkok, while en route to speak at two universities. He was later deported back to Hong Kong.

Mr. Wong is secretary general of the Demosisto Party – a youth-established party in favor of Hong Kong self-determination and autonomy – and played a leading role in the 2014 Umbrella Movement, which demanded electoral reforms in Hong Kong. In July 2016, he was charged and convicted for “unlawful assembly” in connection to an Umbrella Movement protest that overtook Hong Kong’s Central Square in September 2014. He is a vocal supporter of Hong Kong autonomy and democratic reforms.

On October 4, 2016, Mr. Wong arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport, in Bangkok, while en route to deliver speeches that week at two universities, including Chulalongkorn University, which invited him to speak at an event commemorating the 40th anniversary of Thailand’s Oct 6, 1976 massacre of pro-democracy students. Thai police and immigration officers reportedly confronted Mr. Wong on his arrival, and denied him entry. He was then stripped of his passport and detained for 12 hours, during which he was denied external communications, before being deported back to Hong Kong. According to the deputy commander of Suvarnabhumi Airport’s immigration office, Mr. Wong had been put on a “black list” in response to a request by Chinese officials.

This was the second reported instance in which Mr. Wong was denied entry to a country. In May 2015, he was scheduled to speak at youth forums in Malaysia, but was told at Penang International Airport that he would not be allowed entry due to a “government order.”

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the detention and restriction on travel of a student, apparently to retaliate against or prevent nonviolent expressive activity.  Absent evidence to the contrary, such actions suggest an intent to obstruct the exercise of the rights to academic freedom, freedom of expression, and freedom of association — conduct which is protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, to which Thailand is a party. State authorities have a responsibility to protect academic freedom, freedom of expression and association, and to refrain from imposing arbitrary restrictions on movement or improper detention intended to limit these freedoms.  Such actions undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.